Pleasing others – how much is too much?

people pleasing

There are people who are always ready to help others, to give up on them and their plans to respond to other people’s requests or demands and whom you can count on they will do you any favour you need. Those are the people who tend to please others no matter what that means.

To get people’s appreciation, validation, love, and to be accepted by others, these people give up their desires and always put someone else first.

They face difficulties to say “no”, to express their opinions and feelings and to say their point of view especially when it’s different from others. Many times they just don’t know what they want and what they think because they tend to agree with others, and so they get to think and feel like them. For fear that others will react in a negative way, and to avoid conflicts, they prefer to agree with them, obey and please them. They also tend to intervene when others have conflicts trying to mediate the situation or to reconcile them, but they often become scapegoats.

They want very much others to be happy so they don’t hesitate to do whatever they are asked for and they are afraid of what others might think of them if they refuse. To say “no”, to first take care of yourself and your needs before helping others, not allowing others to abuse your kindness, all of these things are seen as evidence of selfishness and accompanied by a lot of guilt.

Those who please other people find it difficult to set boundaries and interaction limits with others and they often feel overwhelmed by all the things they have to do for them.

Because they are not structured and confident enough, it’s very important for them that others like them and have a good opinion about them, to feel like they belong to a group and that is why they behave the way others expect them to behave. They are always vigilant not to be rejected, they have a low self-esteem, and criticism can seriously affect them for long periods of time.

There is nothing wrong with helping or being there for someone when he needs you if you feel like doing this, but it becomes a problem when...

  • You agree to do certain things that you really don’t want to do just to please someone or to avoid a confrontation;
  • You agree to remain in situations that bother you or cause you stress and suffering because it’s difficult for you to refuse for fear of being rejected or judged;
  • You feel exhausted, you neglect your health and wellbeing because you always put other people’s needs above yours and you don’t have the time and energy to take care of yourself;
  • You feel guilty if you refuse someone and you feel the need to justify yourself or apologize for your decisions.

Why is this behavior so unhealthy?

When you put yourself  last and give up your desires and needs, in time you get to accumulate frustration, resentment and anger, and that can’t be good. Because the desire to be "nice" is stronger than the manifestation of these emotions, but because the emotional energy doesn’t disappear but transforms, anger will come to the surface in the form of passive-aggressive behaviors or somatization.

In addition, when other people's opinion about you is so important and you want to be seen favorably, you constantly repress your emotions - it would be inappropriate to manifest your anger, your disappointment, your dissatisfaction or any other feelings that would contradict the image of a "good and altruistic" person.

To wear a mask, even if you identify with it, is a permanent source of stress because you always live with the fear that someone will realize what really is inside of you, that sometimes you say "yes" but you think "no" and no, you no longer want to be the way others want, but the way you feel.

For fear of being rejected, you repress your emotions and censor your opinions, and therefore people don’t get to know the real you, the authentic one. This way you can get to have "mask-to-mask" relationships, relationships that sooner or later  become factors of stress and dissatisfaction.

Because you always respond promptly to the demands of others and you don’t set limits and boundaries of interaction, people can end up abusing your kindness and also lose the respect they have for you. People behave with us as we allow them. If you accept a behavior that isn’t ok for you, you are reinforcing that person's behavior. If you don’t set limits on what you are willing to accept and what not, people will force your hand until you say stop. Of course, when you start saying "no," some people will get upset or angry with you, they will even tell you that you have disappointed them, and that's because they got used for you to accept anything. And you will probably feel guilty and ashamed, but remember that there is nothing to blame for taking care of you.

There is an idea in the collective mind that the more you sacrifice, the better and more valuable you are. The more you offer, the more worthy to be valued and loved you are. That is, a person’s value is given by how much he sacrifices himself. This dysfunctional belief puts a lot of pressure on someone's shoulders, creates stress and affects to a considerable extent his self-esteem. If you think of yourself, if you put yourself first, if you take care of yourself, you feel guilty and selfish. If you don’t give up your desires and dreams for those you love or just for ... others, if you don’t try hard to please others, you are a selfish and a bad person. Your value and your self-esteem are conditioned by your willingness and ability to offer and offer and offer. But what can you offer to others if you aren’t ok with yourself, if you don’t have the "tanks" full? If you offer something to someone, if you make a sacrifice only to avoid feeling guilty or to maintain a positive opinion of your own person, you don’t offer from your abundance, but from a hurt and fragile ego.

What can you do?

Learn to communicate assertively - we often have the impression, especially in dealing with the persons who are close to us, that they can guess our thoughts. We expect them to behave or react in a certain way because they should know how and if they don’t…. But, in the end, it’s your duty to express your needs and desires. And by doing that you will feel much stronger.

If the person next to you doesn’t take into account what you say, you have the opportunity to see if that person is actually a good friend or a positive person in your life, or on the contrary, he has a toxic influence. The one who tries to manipulate or disregard your needs and desires for his own benefit, so that he can continue to take advantage of your kindness, is certainly not a person to feel sorry for losing him. If he continues to try to overstep your limits, even if you repeatedly resist, or tries to take advantage of your vulnerability, it’s best to distance yourself from him and take with you what you have learned from that interaction or relationship.

In addition, by making your voice heard, you will clarify with the person in front of you what you are willing and not to accept, the things that bothered you that you would like to be changed, briefly, you will start to set limits and interaction boundaries. And this is another important aspect to work on if you want others to no longer abuse your goodwill.

You can make an exercise: write down on a piece of paper all the things you've done in the last three months but you didn’t really want to do. Then note the reasons why you didn’t want to do them. For example, those things stopped you from resting and then you have been unproductive in other aspects; they overlapped with other personal activities that you had to give up etc. Then remember these reasons when you have to set limits. For example, "I won’t accept to do this because then I will be too tired and I won’t be able to accomplish my personal tasks" or "I won’t accept to do this because it contradicts my values."

Start saying "no" - I know it can be extremely difficult for you if so far you have been the person who always said “yes”, even when he didn’t want it. You don’t have to justify yourself to anyone for your choices and decisions. If you don’t want to do a thing, don’t justify yourself, don’t try to find excuses for your refusal. Perhaps the person you refuse will try to undermine your reasons, to make them seem irrelevant and you will give up and please him, because you feel guilty and because you haven’t gained yet enough confidence in yourself. Answer him in an assertive but firm manner and realize that you always have a choice. People who tend to please others have the impression that they have to say "yes" whenever someone asks them something. But that "yes" is not imperative. We can always choose to say no. And how liberating this is.

Set your priorities - how many times you gave up something you had to do or what you planned because you let yourself be carried away by other people’s needs and desires, because you didn’t say "no"? Think about what's really important to you and make a priority of it. Don’t be distracted by other people.

Take responsibility for your own happiness - perhaps you are tempted to take responsibility for other people’s happiness, and you always think about how to please them. But by doing so, you get to exhaust yourself physically, emotionally and mentally, and you are left practically with an inner void that you expect to be filled by others in return, just as you did for them, isn’t it?  But everyone is responsible for himself and his life.

Pleasing others can actually be a selfish gesture that shows the need to control others. You do things for them so that you can condition them later to do what you want. The desire for others to like you may be just a symptom of your need for control because deep down you feel unworthy or weak.

If you find yourself in the words mentioned above, I invite you to reflect a little and perhaps start to question your beliefs about what selfishness really means.

There is nothing to condemn and you have no reason to feel guilty if you put yourself first in your life. After all, only when you are happy you can offer your happiness to others. When you are well, you can give from your overflow to others. Otherwise ... we talk about compromises and sacrifices built on the need to fill some inner voids. It's as if you consume your resources to "feed" another person, because the sacrifice you make helps you rise a step in your opinion, but you also expect others to “feed”you.

But how would it be if everybody took responsibility for his own well-being? What do you think?

Dr. Ursula Sandner


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